Is your elderly loved one losing interest in the activities they used to enjoy? Are they experiencing a sudden weight loss? They are cancelling their daily morning exercise and avoiding people? And slowly you realised they are finding it harder and harder to get through the day and looked helpless and hopeless all day. If so, it is very likely that they are suffering from depression, a medical condition that interferes with daily life and normal functioning.
Unfortunately, many people including depressed older adults themselves and their caregivers failed to recognise the symptoms of depression due to it is often confused with the effects of multiple illnesses and the medicines they consumed each day. On top of this, most people assume that feeling down and being slow is a normal part of aging.
Depression is a true and treatable medical condition, not a natural part of aging. Before we look into the causes and treatments, it is important to learn about the signs and symptoms of depression in older adults.
Depression affects older people differently than younger people. In older people, depression often goes along with other medical illnesses and disabilities and may not have the obvious symptoms of depression.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Older Adults includes but not limited to:
- Feelings of hopelessness/pessimism
- Loss of self-worth, worried of being a burden
- Fatigue, lack of energy and motivation
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once enjoyed
- Overeating or loss of appetite
- Insomnia or oversleeping
- Struggle to pay attention and remember details
- Be grumpy or irritable
- Unexplained or aggravated aches, pains, cramps or digestive problems
- Slowed movement or speech
- Neglecting personal care
- Have suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts
Causes of Depression in Older Adults
Older adults may go through major life changes or challenges that can increase the risk for depression. These may include:
Living with a long-term health problem, especially illness that causes severe pain, intellectual or physical disability, damage to body image due to surgery or sickness can all trigger depression.
Loneliness and Isolation
Circumstances such as living alone, absence of healthy human relationships, decreased mobility due to maladies or a loss of driving privileges due to vision impairment can all cause depression.
Lost the Sense of Purpose in Life
Older adults tend to feel a diminished sense of purposeful pursuit and accomplishment due to the gradual changes in social roles along with increasing age. If and when the roles from which older adults had once derived meaning disappear, they may feel a loss of identity, status, self worth and eventually lose their sense of purpose in life. This “empty” feeling can be a key contributor to depression.
These include the fear of becoming a burden to family, fear of death as well as over worrying about the dear medical treatment costs.
Bereavement and Stuck in Grief
The death of a spouse, friends, family members and pets are common causes of depression in older adults not to mention some of them are stuck with heavy grief and unable to move on.
Take note that medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, dementia, stroke, cancer or any other chronic illness, particularly if it is agonising, disabling and life-threatening, can lead to depression or worsening depression symptoms.
Treatment Options for Depression in Older Adults
Depression is a common and potentially serious mood disorder, but there are treatments to help depressed elderly to overcome depression and what’s more, to live a happier, healthier and more productive life.
Here are some of the common and effective treatment options for older adults suffering from depression:
Talk therapy provides a safe place to discuss feelings and emotions, hence by talking to a therapist who specialises in aging adult’s mental health allows your aging loved one to explore their thoughts, giving them a chance to describe what’s going on in their mind and how it is affecting their mood and behaviour. The therapist will then help to identify issues that cause emotional distress and work to develop strategies and solutions to help decrease the severity of the symptoms.
Antidepressant medication is known to be effective for most people even among aging adults. However, elderly adults on antidepressants should be carefully monitored because they are more sensitive to drug side effects and vulnerable to interactions with other medicines they’re currently taking.
Art therapy is a technique rooted in the idea that creative expression can foster healing and mental well-being. The focus of art therapy is on the process, not the final product, hence it is important to know that you don’t have to be a talented artist to try art therapy, all you need to do is be honest to yourself and your emotions, allowing yourself to take on a journey of self-discovery that will help eliminate emotional roadblocks, finding meaning and connection in life. Techniques used in art therapy can include drawing, painting, coloring, sculpting, pottery or collage.
Studies have proven that pet therapy eases depression and interactions with pets has been known to reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure and heart rate. Pets offer companionships, unconditional love, a soothing presence, not to mention helping seniors to engage in physical activities as dogs need to be walked and cats need playtime with toys. Besides, taking care of a pet makes them feel needed, thus helping to boost their self-confidence and self-worth.
Most of the time, a combination of treatment methods yields the best results. As a caregiver, conducting thorough research and study on several methods is necessary to work on a best strategy to help your elderly loved one to cope with depression. Of course, depressed elderly need to be respected, hence caregivers should always seek their opinions and consent and if can, let them make their own decisions.
Self-Help Tips for Elderly Depression
It’s a myth to think that the aging process begins to limit a person’s ability to lead an active life. Many would assume that older adults are less adventurous, less creative, less productive, less adaptable to change and are incompenent and lonely – that simply isn’t true. The golden years can be the best time in a person’s life, in fact, studies show that growing older can have many emotional benefits and the flexible of time to do the things they always wanted to do such as reconnecting with old friends, waking up early to adore the sunrise, baking cookies for family and neighbours, etc.
Below are a few things you can encourage your aging loved one to engage so they can feel more energetic and hopeful again:
- Do volunteer work
- Learn a new skill / Find a new hobby
- Get involved in the community
- Take care of personal appearance and hygiene
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy eating lifestyle
- Get enough sleep
- Spend time in sunlight
- Share stories with others
- Create opportunities to laugh
At Zenvilla, we offer comprehensive resources for depressed older adults, from in-home and outpatient psychotherapy, animal-assisted therapy programme, daily enriching activities to suicide prevention care, we discern looking after and helping your aging loved one to overcome depression as our priority. To find out more about how our services can help your aging loved one, contact us today!
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